Monday, May 28, 2007

The Great Chase

Three-day weekends rock—what more could one ask for than three days of good weather and back-to-back birding?

Much of this was spent in mad pursuit of the Bay-breasted Warbler in Seagate Park. This experience made me realize (1) how friendly and helpful most birders around here are and (2) warblers sometimes make me want to rip my hair out.

Glenn and I decided to hit Seagate Park on Sunday afternoon. It didn't look promising: most of the park is a treeless expanse of manicured grass—"nature" for the minivan set—with only a small thicket of willows at its northern end.

That had to be the place.

We split up and started looking. I soon encountered another couple wearing binoculars, coming towards me on the path. "We just got a call from someone who's just seen it," they said.

"Wow, that's great," I said. I'd heard all kinds of horror stories about how competitive serious birders can be, and I didn't want them to think I was horning in on their great find—even though that's exactly what I was doing. So I passed them and kept on going.

"Wait," one of them called back, "Aren't you coming?"

We found Glenn and together entered the bushy thicket of willows—where we encountered other birders. LOTS of other birders, all with sort-of-familiar names and faces—I counted about 15 people. If someone had thought to bring along a copy of Robert's Rules of Order, Sea and Sage Audubon probably could have convened a board meeting in there.

Someone had, indeed, seen the BBWA about 15 minutes earlier. But it didn't appear again for another hour, when someone played its call. And there it was!

No wait, that's a bushtit.

Not that, the other bird right in front of it!

Suddenly, about 8 of us found ourselves clustered together like paparazzi, staring up into the canopy at a shadowy little warbler hopping about.

"Does everyone see it?" someone asked. "Anyone who can't see it, come over here and I'll show you."

I got a pretty good look at him for about 5 seconds, and Glenn managed to get a serviceable documentary photo, despite the bad light.

Heartened by this great addition to our still-tiny life lists, we decided to try our luck on the Rose-Breasted Grosbeak at Laguna Niguel Regional Park. We got there about 9:00 on Monday morning—early enough, we hoped, to beat the Memorial Day picnic crowds. One of the Seagate Park birders told me it had been singing quite actively, so I listened to sound clip of its song online before I left. This time, I was ready.

And of course, after 7 hours of dodging Frisbees and bad mariachi music, we never saw it. And once we got home, I checked Orange County Birding and saw that someone had spotted a Chestnut-sided Warbler in the park that very day—in the one part of the park we didn't think to check out. Oh yes, and the BBWA had been very well-behaved that morning, and had allowed a number of people to take stunning close-up shots of it!

Stupid bird.

By now, it was almost 5:30. What the hell—we headed back to Seagate Park and waited. And waited. Not a soul was there. Maybe everyone knew something we didn't?

The BBWA clearly didn't feel like making an encore appearance. Oh well.

Our weekend rarities chase turned out to be pretty futile, but we got some good consolation prizes. A male California Gnatcatcher in breeding plumage at Talbert Nature Reserve. A pair of Redheads at Bolsa Chica, who hadn't gotten the memo that winter is over. Blue Grosbeaks, Hooded Orioles galore, Yellow Warblers, and Western Tanagers at Laguna Niguel Regional Park. Two trees by the dam, each with its own active nest hole—one housing a family of House Wrens, the other a very noisy young male Nuttall's Woodpecker, who kept sticking his fuzzy little head out of the hole and squeaking loudly for food. We spent about an hour just watching these nests.

As Sheryl Crow's annoying little ditty said, it's not getting what you want, it's wanting what you got. And there are much worse ways to spend a Monday morning than watching a high-maintenance baby woodpecker boss his parents around.

But I still would have liked to see that grosbeak and those warblers. Darn!

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